Early Lisman speech praised the 1927 Commission on Rural Life

Back when he just getting his Campaign for Vermont underway (and still pretending to be a centrist) Bruce Lisman delivered a speech titled Prosperity is at the heart of the Campaign for Vermont.

cforVIn one of his first speeches made upon entering the Vermont political scene he cited the landmark 1930’s report by the Vermont Commission on Country Life [sometimes called Commission on Rural Life] as a positive example for Vermont leadership to follow.

In November 2011 when Lisman gave the speech to the Associated Industries of Vermont, the state was still recovering from the 2008 recession and in the midst of rebuilding after hurricane-turned-tropical-storm Irene. His address is part-attack on the Shumlin administration and part-branding himself as a white knight returning, to save his home state – with the Campaign for Vermont.

And he wrapped it all around this theme :

If we are exceptional, it isn’t just because it’s so damn cold and dark. It’s because in all that we have ever done we work hard, we work smart, we adapt quickly, we solve problems, and we know how to strike a deal to get things done.

We marry our kindness and caring gene to the gene that demands practicality and frugality.

Consider this: After the flood of 1927, our State launched Vermont’s Commission on Rural Life, a three-year project to re-imagine Vermont.

From that study, our leaders recognized the challenges we face, as individuals and as a state, are sometimes bigger than we can handle alone.

We were a bit humbled, but also enlivened by the opportunities for renewal presented by accepting a bit more dependence on Federal resources.

Irene offers a parallel opportunity to re-imagine Vermont in a world that is changing; an opportunity to examine the resources available and re-imagine.

Our challenges of today call for new imagination.

The Commission was the brainchild of Zoology Prof. H. F. Perkins of the University of Vermont – who also organized the 1925 Vermont Eugenics Survey. The Rural Life Commission’s final report took three years to complete and was the work of over a dozen committees and sub-committees.

One historian, writing in 1999, summed up the report like this: Beneath the surface of its 1931 final report, Rural Vermont: A Program for the Future, however, lay Perkins’s eugenic concern for protecting and nourishing Vermont’s “old stock.”

Over the years the eugenics component may have faded historically; to some readers, the report may generally be regarded (when regarded at all) as simply a multi-faceted government report from many years ago. Sections of the final report were working plans for rural rejuvenation and development. One chapter suggests the state should develop itself as the destination for tourists and summer residents – perhaps the birth of the modern tourist industry.

The report has all that – but with a little minor research the darker side emerges quickly. Not much about tourism surfaces when you Google it and the top search results center exclusively on Vermont Eugenics. And eugenics , according to the report authors’ intro, was the intended essence of it. As they explained in the introduction to The People of Vermont section: Thus, the center of interest from the beginning was in the people. The interest in land utilization, agriculture, forestry, and summer residence was in the background.

Governor-wannabe Bruce Lisman grew up in Burlington, graduated from UVM, and in recent years served on its Board of Trustees. It is possible he wasn’t familiar with the darker eugenics aspect of the study, or perhaps simply discounted it in favor of the convenient 1927 Vermont flood parallel to the ongoing Irene recovery for his talk.

And no one even batted an eye back in 2011 during Lisman’s speech favorably citing the Rural Life Commission’s report that, in part, promoted eugenics.

Now, five years later, Donald J. Trump wants to “build a wall” and without shame expresses openly anti- immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments in the Republican presidential primary. I wonder what kind of headline Lisman would get today, if he praised the eugenics-tainted Vermont Commission on Country Life’s 1931 project to re-imagine Vermont.

Is there such a difference between demonizing adherents of Islam or dehumanizing Mexicans (Trump) on the one hand, and making sure that “undesirables” don’t pass along their genes (Perkins, with recent praise from Lisman)? Is this the kind of thinking – or at best, thoughtlessness – we want running Vermont?

If that’s the way the country and our state decide to go, maybe the Canadians really ought to consider building their own wall.

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